Simplicity the key for Cowboys
The North Queensland Cowboys will put special emphasis on getting the simple aspects of the game right when they take on the Melbourne Storm this weekend, in an effort to maximise their chances of winning without four of their State of Origin stars.
The Cowboys have everything from stripped down attacking structures, a debutant five-eighth and players in positions they've never occupied before. To compete with the ever-consistent Storm they will need to have a high completion rate, something simple football should help them with.
Assistant coach David Fairleigh is confident that the combinations the Cowboys have developed on the training paddock, as well as on the field due to injury, will see them through the game.
"Everyone has a good understanding of how we play, we've trained together over the pre-season and had a lot of different combinations throughout the year and everyone that's playing Saturday night has trained with us… for most of the year," Fairleigh said.
With key attacking players missing on both sides of the field: Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan for the Cowboys, and Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith for the Storm, try-savers could become as valuable as tries.
"Defence is probably a key too, they have some key players out as well. I think the mentality from both sides will be to defend well and keep it simple," Fairleigh said.
The Cowboys' run of injuries in the first half of the season could pay off against the Storm, with Lachlan Coote, Jake Granville, Scott Bolton and Jason Taumalolo having taken the reins and led the Cowboys to victory at different stages in the year.
The pressure will be on Coote and captain Scott Bolton in particular, with the former becoming the main kicker for the Cowboys, while the latter will need to lead from the front against a Melbourne pack that still includes the likes of Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi.
"[All the senior players realise] that they need to step up and take more responsibility given the players we've got out," Fairleigh said.
"[Bolton] thoroughly deserves the captaincy, he's been a real rock for the team, on and off the field. His leadership at training and in games has been tremendous. The team this year at different stages has been lacking some senior players… Bolton has really stepped up to the plate."